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One only has to spend a handful of minutes in the presence of Catfish and the Bottlemen’s slight lead singer and head honcho Van McCann to be exposed to a masterclass in extrovert charm. Everyone he passes gets a smile and a friendly “Hello, how’re you doing?”, no matter whether they’re a fellow big-name musician or simply an anonymous scribe tapping away on a keyboard that he happens to be walking past. That it’s all done with such genuine humility and joie de vivre makes the experience utterly compelling – a quality that feeds back into the band’s live performance. Politicians could learn a thing or two from him about making friends and influencing people.
TGTF caught up with McCann just an hour or so before his band’s performance at Kendal Calling 2014, which would pack the Calling Out tent to such an extent that people were spilling out of its sides, braving torrential rain and a sloppy mudbath to catch a glimpse of who are sure to be one of 2015’s big headline acts in the making.
I was looking forward to seeing you last weekend at Deer Shed – why didn’t that work out?
I know mate, tell me about it. We’ve had a really bad 2 weeks. We missed Tramlines in Sheffield as well, which is one of my favourite festivals in the world. I know the promoter quite well, he gave us our first ever gig in Sheffield and I was so gutted – we never let people down.
You’re well known for doing a lot of hard work though so I suppose at some point the pressure must tell a little bit.
It was nice because everyone understood because they know that we’re that kind of band who love gigging – I hate being in the studio, I hate being anywhere else except live so it ruined me to miss them but honestly, if you knew the stuff going on – it was terrible.
I guess everyone knew you wouldn’t just do that on a whim.
It’s alright now, we’re back, and I feel good, I’m excited.
So TGTF first caught up with you at the Communion gig in London last year…
That might have been the day we got signed – I think it was, in fact. That Communion show – you were probably thinking, “where’s this band come from”, which wasn’t the case at all – we’d been playing to empty rooms all our lives, playing acoustic gigs for money, coming from nothing. So to be able to come off the dole, onto a deal, it was mad.
We played T in the Park the other week, and I was nearly crying! You know singers are supposed to be cool onstage, well, I came offstage thinking, “That gig was amazing but I’ve just ruined any credibility I’ve ever had!” I was trying to sing the songs, but I couldn’t because I was laughing my head off. We started playing ‘Kathleen’ and everyone was bouncing and singing and I literally couldn’t get my words out because I was so overwhelmed by it. Yeah, it blows me away. My Dad brought me up very much based around live music, I’d go to see people like Van Morrison and be genuinely blown away, so when I can see a crowd doing that for us it’s unreal to me, man!
There’s always a moment at festivals when it all comes together and the tears well up, but for it to happen in front of so many people must make it even more special.
It’s just mad, a really good feeling. When I went to see Oasis at Heaton Park, I remember thinking it feels like everyone in Manchester is going to the same place – as if Jesus had come back – everyone would go to the same place. It used to be everyone was thinking about Jesus, and everyone there was thinking about Oasis. It’s just the feeling of 1,000 or 2,000 people being in a tent, going, we’re going to see Catfish, we’re going to see Catfish! I love it, it’s the best feeling in the world.
So was that always your aspiration, to be, you could say, as big as Oasis.
Bigger! Bigger than them. I want to be the biggest thing ever. I don’t see the point in it otherwise, it’s like saying you want to be a professional footballer but you’re happy sitting on the bench at Leeds. Why wouldn’t you want to be the best on the planet? I hope it doesn’t come across as arrogant when I say that, but if I was a bin man, I’d want to be the best bin man. It’s about being the best band we possibly can and getting as many people into us as possible. It’s very much about getting as big as it can possibly get. I love it all, I love everything to do with it. We’ve never been in a band to make music to sell it, we used to give all our CDs away…
I think I got a free CD at the Communion show…
That was the day we had to stop doing it! The day the record label said we need to make money! I hate being in the studio, I hate chart positions and all that stuff, I’m not fussed about any of it – selling out gigs is what I care about, and now they’re selling out – I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Your singles have been pretty well received as well, with Zane Lowe loving them…
Steve Lamacq started all that, and there’s a guy called Jason Carter who gets overlooked from the BBC, he doesn’t get enough credit, he’s been a really important person for this band. Steve Lamacq gave us our first radio play when I was 15! He called me a poetic genius when I was 15 – imagine me going into school the next day, I was like, “Told you!”
So you’re still on an upwards trajectory then – it remains to be seen how far you can go…
That’s the exciting thing – it could all fall apart tomorrow. With the album, I’m so proud of it – in the past, if someone hasn’t liked something, I’ve said, “Well, that’s because we didn’t have enough time to record it”, or whatever, but this album I’m made up with it. I want people to come up to me and say it’s garbage, I want people to feel something from it. It’s dead exciting! I hope that never stops, I hope we never get to the point where it can’t get any bigger, I just want it to get bigger and bigger and bigger, but I want to do it really slowly, because I don’t want to lose that intimacy at gigs – we stay behind after every gig. I don’t like rock stars who are aliens, when you’re wondering what they’re up to backstage. I love it when people tell me “I hate that song, it’s shite!” and we have a good crack about it. It’s really fun.
So, Oasis got to the stage when they made these huge, overblown records, do you think you’ll ever reach that stage?
I hope so. I hope we get the opportunity to make an overblown record. We’re not druggies though, so I don’t think we’ll get into LSD and grow beards and all that shit. But I hope it gets to the size where we get the opportunity to go, “Let’s make a mental record,” but I hope it just keeps getting bigger and bigger so we can keep putting music out for people. We’re not one of those bands who – at the moment anyway – want to change our sound, we just want it to be about the songs.
That’s good, because you make – I don’t want to use the word mainstream – accessible, direct, rock music.
I like the word mainstream though, I’m not afraid of it.
It’s a bit of a dirty word though, isn’t it? Appealing to the masses. But surely that’s the whole point of music?
That’s the thing – when people compare us to bands – I hate being compared to the Strokes or whatever, but I love the Strokes! If you’re comparing us to the Strokes, then go for it! I don’t mind. I don’t mind anything, because we are mainstream! When I write songs, I think “are 60,000 people going to sing this in a field”, whereas other people write songs for themselves and if other people get it then that’s brilliant. But for me I’m thinking like, “is someone going to fall in love with this tune?” or “are people going to have sex in a car to this? Are people going to be bouncing at gigs to this?” I think about all those things. So I’m not scared of being mainstream, I want to be mainstream. People have a go at the Kings Of Leon for selling out – I resent that. They got really annoyed about it, when people got mad at them for writing ‘Sex on Fire. If that song hadn’t been on the radio, Kings Of Leon fans would have been fine about it, but so what? Sell out arenas, man, get as big as you can! If you’re filling 20,000 caps a night, it’s better than doing 200.
You’re bringing pleasure to more people that way.
Music’s about making people happy and positive, it’s not about your ego or ruining your image or anything like that, so we’re not scared of being mainstream. It’s nice that you say that though, I hope we are mainstream. We’re not clever enough or good looking enough to be outside the box. So we’re very much like, while everyone else does the tricky stuff outside the box, we’ll just stay right in the middle of it and try and write really good songs.
There’s a definite lack of pretension in your music.
I think it’s because we’re from nowhere. We didn’t have anything before we got the deal, we were all on the dole and when we got the deal we still paid each other as much as the dole so it felt like we were still on the dole. So we still skimped. I love everything about it – I love interviews, I love these buses [we’re sitting upstairs in a double-decker bus converted into a media centre], we got free pies, man! Pie Minister! I couldn’t afford a pie at one time, and now I’m getting free pies! It’s ace.
It sounds like you’re really enjoying it.
I couldn’t be happier. It’s the time of my life. But it’s nice that people like you have seen us that long ago because I’ve been doing interviews lately where they’re asking “so you’ve just blown out of nowhere, last week?” You would have seen us about 2 years ago [in reality it was 18 months ago, but neither of us were exactly sure at the time]. My Dad was there that day. He used to have to drive us everywhere, and we sacked him and he got really offended. He drove us to Germany non-stop, for 16 hours or something, and we had to sack him or I thought he’d die in our presence. So I had to sack him before I killed him!
And with that, our time is up with Van McCann. Who wants to be bigger than Oasis, isn’t afraid of being mainstream, and loves a good pie, especially if they’re free. Their gig later on is one of the highlights of the festival, and McCann’s charm works wonders on the sodden crowd, warming them through with an unexpected Rod Stewart singalong. Only 18 short months since we last saw them, not only are Catfish And The Bottlemen on the list of British guitar bands, they’re not far off the top of it right now. Give it a bit more time, and unlikely as it seems, Van McCann might be closer to achieving his dream than you might think.
Kendal Calling 2014 was wet, windy and wild, but that didn’t stop it being one of the finest weekends of the festival calendar.
Anyone considering a trip to the Lake District at any time of the year would be well advised to anticipate bad weather, as Kendal Calling 2014 demonstrated all too well. At times, revellers were treated to a rendition of the classic “four seasons in one day”: heavy rain, followed by strong winds, then a glimpse of blue sky and sunshine before the rain returned again. Rinse and repeat.
Some people had grokked that it was raining and muddy and wore wellies and raincoats. Others appeared not to notice, sporting flimsy trainers and T-shirts that were soon overwhelmed by the weather. Those who were either already insane or induced to be so by the party atmosphere positively relished the conditions, to the extent of indulging in mud-diving, mud-fighting and indeed, mud-hugging. On this evidence, anyone who tells you rain spoils a festival needs to have a rethink.
In between the mud-love there happened to be some music. Kendal has within its modestly-sized site a plethora of stages: the commercial-biased Main Stage, the new indie bands on the Calling Out stage, the pretty Woodlands stage, in addition to hosting longtime external collaborators Chai Wallahs and Riot Jazz. The compact nature of the site – you’re never more than 10 minutes away from the other side – means it carries a significant advantage over mega-festivals where it feels like one spends most of the day trudging from one far-flung stage to the next.
The big news this year was the opening of the main arena on Thursday night, for the benefit of those who paid a bit extra for early entry. And who better to get the place rocking than everyone’s favourite funk ‘n’ soul (and friend to TGTF) DJ Craig Charles? In truth, technically, he’s no better than the chap in your local boozer spinning the silver discs of a Saturday night – there’s little attempt at anything fancy like beatmatching – but what Charles lacks in technical skill he far more than makes up for with sheer unbridled enthusiasm, standing up on the desk, exhorting the crowd into further frenzies of funk-induced revelry, his set heavy with classic soul and climaxing with a Dimitri From Paris’ remix of Michael Jackson’s ‘I Want You Back’ by which time a random gaggle of lucky punters had been invited up on stage, dancing with DJ Charles in various states of inebriation and undress. The party had well and truly started.
Kendal’s campsites are true melting pots of those brave souls who risk staying up beyond the witching hour to for the simple pleasures of shared song and story… and beer and whisky. If you don’t want to be kept awake by a tone-deaf rendition of ‘Wonderwall’ at 3 AM, then the quiet camping area is a must. Never fear, your correspondent was on hand to ensure that at the very least the guitar was properly tuned – no mean feat at such a late hour. After so much anticipation, Friday morning couldn’t dawn soon enough, and after such a fine prelude, it had finally arrived.
Stay tuned for more coverage from Martin on this year’s Kendal Calling coming soon on TGTF.
No review of Deer Shed would be complete without mentioning the various extra-musical activities available for the under-16s. And where to begin? Perhaps on Sunday, when the musical offerings are relatively modest, to help the crowd wind down, and to let the kids’ activities, rather than the adults’, prevail. There was shaker-making (sadly not to the soundtrack of Oasis’ ‘Shakermaker’), badge-making and flag-making. There was a real-life yellow submarine, which hosted any number of interactive workshops. There was actual jousting, on horseback and everything. There was a beach. For the older ones, there were electronics projects, Minecraft, soldering for girls and the mildly disturbing Tedroids. There was hula hooping, swingball and lots and lots of bubbles. Best of all, the famous enormous cardboard boxes were there to age-independent glee, hand-decorated and constructed into elaborate, surreal, child-sized cities. It’s impossible to imagine a more perfect child-friendly festival experience. And by virtue of the new-for-2014 Obelisk stage and bar, subtly located in a nook behind the kids’ tents, Dad can sneak off for a quick premium ale without too much fuss.
As Sunday drew to a close, and tired children napped in homebound cars, thoughts turned to Deer Shed’s short but happy history, and where it might go in the future. The site has been subtly rearranged every year, but seems to be settling in its current format for now. There’s no doubt that the essential details have been resolved – the stage names and locations, the excellent food outlets, the plentiful camping areas – all satisfyingly top quality. The big question for this writer is – where will the music policy head in the future? The good news is Deer Shed has its finger firmly on the pulse of the zeitgeist, unfailingly booking acts just as their careers are taking off, so it’s as good a place as any to work out who next year’s big names will be as any.
However, various online hints suggest that the curators enjoy their guitar music, particularly around the punk/new-wave spectrum, and whilst those genres are an essential part of festival programming, this year seemed more guitar-oriented than last, and that’s perhaps something of a shame. Sac ‘n’ Pip demonstrated that there’s a powerful appetite for a bit of urban music in the Yorkshire countryside, so more of that please. There’s loads of scope for more country, dance-funk, electronica and after-hours ambient. And not to mention that Saturday night headliner… I wonder what Jarvis Cocker is doing this time next year?
And sticking with the Js, why not Just Jack, Jon Allen and John Shuttleworth? Keep the guitar bands in the tents, and funk up the main stage. The truth is, however, Deer Shed could stick on a couple of buskers for half the bill (or, goodness forfend, The Lancashire Hotpots) and still people would flock to it. Because there’s something about the atmosphere, the site and the families, which remains unmatched anywhere in festivaldom. And I’m willing to wager that for 99% of the audience at Deer Shed, that’s what keeps them coming back year after year. Here’s to Deer Shed’s 6th birthday.
Camping with kids at festivals is rewarding and frustrating in equal measure. Despite running around all day, playing swingball in fits of glee, they rarely fall asleep anywhere near normal bedtime yet paradoxically wake at the crack of dawn, as the first glow of sunlight forces its way through increasingly stuffy canvas. Which would explain the weary expressions on the faces of parents in the queues for coffee and bacon sandwiches early Saturday morning at Deer Shed festival. Plenty simply hadn’t bothered to get dressed, waiting in line in pyjamas and Crocs for the calories and caffeine which would finally drag them into the realm of the waking.
As good a place as any to eat breakfast was the Big Top tent, with Paul Cookson and Stan Cullimore for company. Stan used to be in The Housemartins, so he can play the ukulele and now sings songs for kids rather than blather on about how good Hull is. Paul Cookson used to be a teacher, so knows how to handle a crowd of over-excited children, and trades in performance poetry when not accompanying Cullimore on the ukulele. He has one particularly memorable routine in which he impersonates his teenage daughter’s head-shaking, hand-waving putdowns: “Wha-eva, major loser!” Elsewhere, the Stan sings a song about the virtues or otherwise of his musical partner’s digestive system, which of course brings the house down. A great way to banish the cobwebs.
Leeds’ Post War Glamour Girls do a good job of convincing people to buy their début album ‘Pink Fur’. Its scuzzy, incessant grooves infected with gothic despair are ironically just the ticket to really launch into Saturday PM. The shadow of Nick Cave hangs heavy over them; indeed, the male-female interplay recalls Cave and Minogue at their most lugubrious. After all that, how bad can one’s life be in comparison? Dublin’s Raglans do exactly what you might expect of a few likely lads equipped with guitars from Ireland’s party city. Upbeat, jolly ditties, delivered with irrepressible enthusiasm. Their song entitled ‘White Lightning’ might raise queasy memories of last night’s cider-induced hangover, but apart from that, they deserve full marks for kicking the Main Stage into life.
With nothing of interest to follow on the Main Stage, it’s to the comedy tent to witness Wes Zaharuk (yet another name misspelled in the programme). His brand of shambolic, power tool-assisted slapstick comedy has the power to have an audience in tears of laughter in short order, and gives any manner of ideas for mayhem to errant toddlers. A whole toilet roll is unravelled in someone’s face using some sort of power blower, and a lucky lady gets to feed Wes a banana. From behind. Without looking. It’s unclear how he gets away with it, but give praise to the god of slapstick that he does.
Happyness are the perfect mid-afternoon tent band. Their chilled-out obscurantist rock proves how effective the power trio lineup can still be. Their songs have a deceptive superficial simplicity in which hides all manner of clever guitar work and surrealist lyrical content. ‘Refrigerate Her’, anyone? The irony of their name versus their faux-glum onstage banter doesn’t go unnoticed, either. With their début album now released, Happyness deserve increasing recognition for their West-Coast-by-way-of-South-London vibes – and they’re certainly headed in the right direction.
Unfortunately Catfish and the Bottlemen are indisposed, so Bleech play for the second time in 2 days. Which means that We Were Evergreen’s upcoming claim to Deer Shed fame – that they’d be the first act to play the main stage twice – is cruelly usurped by fate at the last possible moment. Which makes it even more inexplicable when the compere introduces “We Are Evergreen [sic], the first band ever to play the Main Stage twice!” just after Bleech had finished playing their second Main Stage set. Evergreen’s name had been misspelled throughout the catalogue and lanyard – one would imagine that a band that had played before would have better name recognition than the others, but apparently not. Anyway, a bit of a low point, credibility-wise.
What wasn’t a low point was We Were Evergreen’s actual set. Fortunately, the Parisian three-piece multi-instrumentalists can remember their own name and what to play. They’ve taken their time releasing their début album ‘Towards’, but the wait has been worth it. They’re complete antithesis of a guitar band: yes, they have a Telecaster and a ukulele, but they work in deference to the song, instead of the song being an incidental excuse for six-stringed excess. It’s impossible to overstate the songwriting efficiency that goes into a song like ‘False Start’: its funkiness is off the scale, there’s hooks galore, and the whole thing hangs in the air with a citric freshness of style for which merely being Gallic isn’t sufficient explanation. The closer ‘Belong’ has a climax of such theatrical intensity that it leaves the crowd in raptures of applause. There isn’t enough time in universe to get bored with it. We Were Evergreen deserve widespread acclaim, as do Deer Shed for hosting them twice – let’s hope they get their name right third time around.
Summer Camp play the “In the Dock” stage, which is a tent, but they surely would have worked just as well on the main stage, such is the power of their funkily intense pop music. Indeed, Summer Camp are perhaps the perfect intelligent pop band, with just the right blend of sugary melodies, acerbic observational lyrics, and a decent slug of wig-out when they’re really powering on. There’s some cuts from their recent ‘Beyond Clueless’ semi-soundtrack album, but the greatest acclaim is reserved for their back-catalogue classics – ‘Better Off Without You’ from ‘Welcome To Condale’ is received like an old friend. Elizabeth Sankey is a woodland diva, her tremulous soprano lending an air of dignity to the acerbic lyrics, whilst Jeremy Walmsley’s ’80s retro grooves ensure that any joints that may have become stiff in the evening breeze are well-loosened in anticipation of our headliner.
And so we come to Johnny Marr. In part 1 it was already established that Mr Marr is the most successful Deer Shed headliner ever, and outlined the reasons for it. Suffice to say that to these ears, seeing Marr live is actually superior to seeing the Smiths in their pomp: Marr’s voice is adequate but nothing spectacular, which leaves the music and songs space to breathe – the whole isn’t dominated by a preening diva flouncing around. Having said that, Marr is a surprisingly good mimic, his tone and inflection an impressive imitation of Morrissey’s, and indeed Neil Tennant’s for that matter. He played a decent mixture of solo songs, Smiths classics, one or two from Electronic, and a fine rendition of ‘I Fought The Law’. The enormous crowd gave a rapturous welcome, and even though this was surely a modest crowd by Marr standards, it was perhaps one of the most appreciative. It turns out an elder statesman headliner is perfect for the of-a-certain-age Deer Shed demographic. The mind boggles as to where this could lead – there’s no dearth of ex-singers or guitarists from respected bands which were active over the last two or three decades, any of which would be a perfect fit for Baldersby Park. More on this topic in part 3…
Keep it here on TGTF for the conclusion of Martin’s time at Deer Shed Festival 2014 coming soon.
On Saturday the 26th of July, on the occasion of its fifth birthday, Deer Shed Festival finally came of age. I mean no disrespect to Villagers or Darwin Deez, but Johnny Marr is the perfect climax to Saturday night at Deer Shed. He drew a crowd to Baldersby Park’s gently sloping natural auditorium unmatched in both size and enthusiasm than in any previous year. By virtue of writing the music to countless songs that soundtracked the lives of the adults in the crowd when they were young, free, and unencumbered by the offspring who were variously marauding around the site in frenzied glee or asleep in their arms despite the noise, for an hour or so they gave Marr their undivided attention and appreciation as he reeled off one classic after another.
Even though perhaps not as much a household name as his Smithsian lyricist and singer, by virtue of avoiding the latter’s rum pronouncements on vegetarianism, race, and sexuality, and sticking to what he does best – playing decent music – Marr succeeds in a similar, but much larger fashion, to that which Gaz Coombes did the previous year. A combination of life-affirming back catalogue hits, each of which instantly evoke dusty memories of life past, together with new material that easily stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the older stuff, is a recipe for success at Deer Shed Festival. Thusly are memories of the future made.
But Deer Shed Festival is far from being just the Johnny Marr show, and the adventure commenced the previous sultry afternoon. For those that don’t know, Deer Shed festival is held in North Yorkshire, just off the A1 on the way to Thirsk, in the beautiful grounds of Baldersby Park. The unwritten rule of Deer Shed: bring the kids. Even though the music is as good as anywhere, the real focus is on giving children a good time throughout the weekend, so if you’ve an aversion to the little blighters, look elsewhere. If you need an event where the kids are kept amused as Dad moshes down the front, Deer Shed is for you.
After a less-than-arduous 5-minute walk from car park to campsite, silently congratulating oneself for attending an event of a sensible acreage, and a bout of fumbling with canvas and string in the baking hot sunshine, refreshment and musical entertainment are less desired than demanded. Teleman were welcome succour. Comprising three of the admired Pete and the Pirates but swapping jaunty guitars for more considered electronica-enhanced melodies, they mix Erasure’s way with a dramatic synth-pop arc with Belle and Sebastian’s observational twee. All We Are eased the main stage into the late afternoon sunshine with the gentle ebb and flow of their gently atmospheric, shoegaze-influenced pop. Contenders for “The xx imitators of the Year” award, along with Woman’s Hour.
PINS are impeccable now. Watching them transform from a rickety band of noiseniks just a couple of years ago into today’s whirlwind of glamour and red lipstick is a life-affirming experience. They combine the power of 1970s New York glam-punk rock with an overlaid sweetness of melody and delicacy of touch comparable with any Supremes classic. While the phrase “girl band” has loaded connotations of manufactured, shallow pop nonsense, bands like PINS are doing their best to reclaim it for groups of talented musicians who just happen to be women. Whether or not there’s any great feminist insight is open to debate, but nevertheless, theirs was one of the performances of the weekend.
Next comes the only major misstep of programming of the whole weekend. Just as the sun starts to think about lazily drifting towards the horizon, and the main stage crowd are tucking into their evening meal of organic houmous and vintage prosecco, along come Toy to blast away the early evening reverie. On record, TOY are more considered, melodic, and song-focused, but live they come across as an incessant wall of noise; they’ve got three guitars and they’re going to turn it them all up to 11. ‘Join the Dots’, the title track from their début album, is a case in point – its climax of multi-layered guitars, phased into the next universe, is an undoubtedly viscerally thrilling piece of music, but perhaps not enjoyable if it disturbs little Johnny’s digestion and makes the whole family go scrabbling around for the ear defenders.
It’s not that they’re a bad band. Far from it. In fact, along with Temples, they’re one of the most convincing neo-psych bands in the country right now. But in this instance it’s a case of right band, wrong stage. Various overheard grumbles pay testament, including the old classic, “it’s just noise!” A considerable chunk of the Deer Shed crowd rock up to the main stage auditorium in the morning with their camping chairs and stay there all day, so in a way have little choice as to what they are made to listen to. Whatever is on the main stage influences the enjoyment of the entire site, and the Friday evening slot needs to be something less challenging, a little funkier, to properly match the mood of the audience.
A band on the correct stage are Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip – they play the tented Lodge stage, so aural participation is distinctly optional – but certainly recommended. Pip’s gently political and moderately sweary diatribes (“that last song had an MF in it, sorry parents!”) combined with Sac’s dubstep-flavoured soundtrack excites many audience members into a display of such extrovert dad-dancing that any child would be excruciatingly embarrassed. The atmosphere in the tent is genuinely charged with enthusiasm; Deer Shed’s first foray into urban/rap/hip-hop is superbly received. More please. In common with several other acts, Pip seems genuinely pleased to have such a diverse range of ages in the audience – officially the most people on shoulders ever at one of their gigs, as children are raised aloft to experience “the man with his head on upside down”.
The main stage headliner is British Sea Power, but inevitably for many parents their slot coincided with trying to settle one or more very excited children to sleep. They sounded great from the campsite. When eventually the kids are settled, the last attraction of Friday is the genius that is Darius Battiwalla accompanying a silent film: this year, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame. It was intended to be The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari but had to be changed for licensing reasons, which would have suited the time travel theme far better, and also the patience of the crowd: Caligari is a mere 67 minutes long, whereas Hunchback is over 2 hours. Whilst I’d happily listen to Battiwalla play over a cornflake advert, that’s a long time to spend watching Lon Cheney gurning, and by the time the film’s impenetrable plot reached its climax, the audience were variously physically uncomfortable or sound asleep. It’s surprising how loud a small boy’s snores can be in the auditorium of a silent film!
Stay tuned for more of Martin’s coverage of Deer Shed coming soon on TGTF.
Jon Allen is a relative latecomer to the music biz – he released his début album ‘Dead Man’s Suit’ in 2009 at the ripe old age of 32. It’s been 3 years since 2011’s blues-influenced, Jools Holland-approved ‘Sweet Defeat’, but Allen is back, slightly wrinklier and considerably hairier, with ‘Deep River’, released this month. The mournful live version ‘Falling Back’ is free to watch, and it’s a corker of a thing, beautifully played, with nary a second of wasted space in the arrangement. There’s some card game metaphors in there, but surely he’s too upset to have just lost a few quid.
Allen has an uncanny knack for mimicking a plethora of rock ‘n’ roll legends. ‘Down By the River’ sounds for all the word like a long-lost Rod Stewart hit from 1972. Swing-blues ‘Fire in My Heart’ wouldn’t be out of place in Clapton’s canon, perhaps released in his millennial revival period. There are echoes of José Gonzales’ glassy nylon-string fingerpicking, and even, in the Hammond organ washes and mid-tempo strumming, hints of Pink Floyd’s later years.
All of which means if one fancies an evening with one of the great folk-rock performers, but can’t decide which one, then don’t despair. Put on something by Jon Allen, or even better, go and and see him live, and he’ll run you through some originals that sound just like the real thing. Which is no mean feat indeed.
Allen tours the UK in October and November. ‘Deep River’ is out now on Monologue Records.